Our Resident Expert - by Ibti Vincent
Suddenly, an excited shriek broke the concentrated silence, "I found a nematode!!"
A handful of 5-year-olds scampered over to the shouter's table to examine the tiny critter, while the rest of the class redoubled their efforts to find signs of life in their own soil samples.
"That looks like roots," one student pointed out to a parent. "I think it looks like little hairs."
"Is that a baby worm?" another asked as Farmer Zach walked over, eyes twinkling. "It could be another nematode," he smiled, "You know there are many, many different kinds."
Welcome to the first class co-taught by our pilot Farmer-In-Residence, Zach Lester, at Francis-Stevens Elementary.
Though he's been helping to design and plan a robust organic vegetable garden we are hoping to build on the school's grounds, and supplied a generous number of plant starts that flourished in the small existing garden bed at the front of the school through the autumn, this January marked the first official classroom visit of our resident farmer. Kindergarteners in Ms. Seward and Ms. Burr's classes learned all about building healthy soil, why it matters to have a diverse soil community, and looked very closely at soil that Farmer Zach brought from his own farm, Tree & Leaf. We weren't just playing in the dirt, mind you -- we were using magnifying glasses and our critical scientist eyes -- but it sure was fun. After class, students journaled about their findings. (I'd put money on at least half of them writing about how many nematodes they found.)
Farmer Zach and I spent the middle of the day, between our two kindergarten classes, preparing and enjoying a delicious lentil soup with whole wheat toast and homemade butter with the school's Sustainability Club, who shared some of the environmental projects that this group of middle school students has been supporting around the school this year: watering trees and vegetable seedlings, conducting a waste audit, educating their peers about the importance of recycling, and nurturing the school's worm bin. Zach was impressed. I think the kids were, too.
While students at our partner schools have always had opportunities to plant, harvest, prepare, and eat nutritious foods through the FoodPrints program, and we do the bulk of our sourcing at FreshFarm markets, the Farmer-in-Residence program provides a more direct link to the invaluable folks growing our food. FoodPrints' theory is that by facilitating relationships for each of our school communities with local farmers, we could dramatically deepen urban residents’ understanding and appreciation of local agriculture. At the same time, we believe this program would offer unbelievably engaging opportunities for elementary age students in both written and oral communication, for project-based learning opportunities, and for enrichment of the life science and social studies curriculum.
What will Farmer Zach be up to with our students this spring? You'll have to stay tuned to find out!
Many, many thanks to Zach for his willingness to work with us on this first ever Farmer-in-Residence pilot at our newest FoodPrints site. Stay tuned for news about our other Farmer-In-Residence this year, Becky Seward of Prickly Pear Produce who is working with students at Watkins Elementary.
Written by Ibti Vincent, FoodPrints Educator at Tyler Elementary and School Without Walls Francis-Stevens